Motion to Take Note
My Lords, this report was published in March of this year when I was the chair of the European Union Sub-Committee on Home Affairs. I begin by thanking the members of the sub-committee and the former clerk, Julia Labeta, for their assistance in the preparation of this report. I am also pleased to see that a number of noble Lords have signed up to speak in the debate and I look forward to their contributions. However, I regret that we have yet to receive a response from the Government.
Much was said during the EU referendum campaign about immigration. In her Lancaster House speech in January, the Prime Minister underlined the fact that Brexit must mean control over the number of people coming into Britain from Europe. The Conservative manifesto for last month’s election repeated the commitment to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, and the Queen’s Speech stated that the immigration Bill will end the free movement of EU nationals to the UK. However, the Government have yet to declare the restrictions that they will put in place. We are told that the Bill will allow the Government to control the number of people coming to the UK from Europe while still allowing the UK to attract the best and the brightest.
The Government’s primary objective in putting an end to freedom of movement is to restore sovereignty and control immigration; that is, to ensure that immigration rules for EU nationals are devised and adopted in the UK. However, controlling EU migration may or may not mean reducing immigration. The outcome will depend on the effect that any new controls may have on the number of EU nationals coming to the UK. For instance, until 2016 net migration to the UK from outside the EU was consistently higher than EU migration, despite the fact that relevant policy levers are already under national control.
In our report we examined what the Government’s pledge to deliver control might mean in practice and the policy options open to them. As the House is aware, the free movement of people—which has two dimensions: the right to entry and residence, and right to equal treatment—has its legal basis in single market provisions, not in immigration policy. It is set to end automatically when the UK ceases to be a member of the EU.
If negotiations under Article 50 were to conclude without an agreement, the default outcome is that UK nationals would become third-country nationals for the purposes of EU law and the domestic immigration rules of EU member states. For its part, the UK could place EU migrants on the same footing as non-EU immigrants. At the other end of the spectrum of possible outcomes, negotiations could lead to new and preferential arrangements for UK-EU migration, falling short of free movement as it exists today.
The committee’s report attempts to highlight issues that it felt deserve careful consideration as the UK looks to develop a new immigration policy. In considering various models for regulating future UK-EU migration, we did not seek to capture the full range of options that may be available, nor to endorse any specific approach. Indeed, there may be trade-offs between the level of access to the single market that the UK can secure in a future free trade agreement and the precise arrangements for future migration between the UK and the EU.
It is therefore important to emphasise that it is vital that the Government should not close off options ahead of the negotiations. However, the committee recommends that there are, of course, benefits to the UK in offering preferential treatment to EU nationals compared to non-EU in the UK’s future immigration regime. This could increase the likelihood of securing preferential treatment for UK nationals in the EU and improve the UK’s objectives on access to the single market. The options examined by the sub-committee were free movement with an emergency brake and free movement with a work permit or a job offer.
A time-limited emergency brake has been one of the options under consideration in European capitals and within government, not least because the temporary nature of an emergency brake would in principle be compatible with a high degree of access to the single market. While we heard that a time-limited emergency brake on free movement would be compatible with a high degree of access to the single market, there were concerns about what this would mean in practice: how many immigrants would trigger the brake? How long would it last? How much notice would employers get once a brake was applied? Crucially, would the EU 27 even agree to an emergency brake?
We also heard evidence regarding free movement with work permits and free movement with a job offer. We were told that if the UK were to extend the work permit system it uses for non-EU nationals to EU nationals, this would disproportionately affect employers’ ability to sponsor EU workers and could result in labour shortages. To avoid this, if the Government are tempted to consider a work permit system hedged with exemptions for particular sectors and schemes, this could produce the worst of all worlds: failing to deliver a meaningful reduction in immigration while also proving more onerous and costly for employers, prospective applicants and those charged with enforcement.
The UK already operates a points-based work system for non-EU nationals, so there might be a couple of options. We could either bring EU nationals under the same system or give preferential treatment to EU citizens as against non-EU nationals. Bringing EU nationals under the existing points-based system was not well received by employers’ organisations. They said the procedures for hiring non-EU staff were already time-consuming and burdensome, particularly for SMEs. They argued that to do so would affect employers’ ability to sponsor EU workers and could result in labour shortages in some areas, including publicly funded sectors such as the National Health Service and social care, and in horticulture, where the closure of the seasonal agricultural workers scheme at the end of 2013 was premised on growers having unrestricted access to workers from the EU.
We also heard concerns from employers about not being able to attract enough migrant workers. Less immigration from the EU could add significantly to existing pressures. Nursing, for example, was included in the shortage occupation list for non-EU nationals in 2016, meaning that it suffers from a shortage of nurses from outside the EU. Now, on top of this, the National Health Service has had to contend with a drop of 96% since last July in the number of nurses coming here from the EU. This is disturbing news for a profession that is already being severely tested.
The Government’s direction of travel seems to consist of three elements: high-skilled migrants remain welcome, low-skilled immigration is of concern, and there is a desire to reduce dependency on low-cost migrant labour. Closer scrutiny of these three elements showed that it is not self-evident that migration for high-skilled work should be treated preferentially relative to migration for low-skilled work, not least because the increase in the number of graduates in the UK has not been matched by an increase in high-skilled jobs.
The Government are making a link between the availability of migrant labour from the EU and the incentive to train or upgrade the skills of resident workers in the UK. The evidence we took suggests that there is not a sufficiently strong evidence base to judge whether that link is robust. Nor is it clear why any such link should exist for low-skilled work but not for high-skilled work.
Successive Governments have not led the way in investing in the skills of the resident workforce; doctors, nurses and teachers feature prominently among migrant workers recruited through the shortage occupation list. This reflects a failure to invest in training. In the public sector there may be a trade-off between spending levels and immigration; reducing immigration in the future may require more public investment. These are hard choices.
During the referendum campaign we heard a lot about how cutting EU immigration would benefit those on low wages. The evidence is less clear cut. The evidence we took suggests that the effect of migration on wages at the bottom of wage distribution has been modest. Witnesses told us that reducing EU immigration was unlikely to provide a quick fix. Other factors, such as the national minimum wage, the national living wage and inflation, are more significant in driving, or impeding, real-wage growth.
During the campaign we also heard how UK workers would be able to fill the jobs vacated by EU migrant workers. We found no evidence to prove or disprove that assumption. In fact, the situation may vary by sector, and hinge on factors such as labour mobility within the UK and the potential effects of incentives such as higher wages.
If the Government’s ultimate objective is to reduce dependency on low-cost migrant labour, the considerations in play would reach well beyond immigration policy. It would mean looking at a reassessment of industrial strategy, education and skills policy and public spending plans—issues well beyond the remit of the sub-committee. What is clear is that the crucial sectors of our economy are highly dependent on migrant labour, and therefore that it is essential that any changes do not endanger the vibrancy of the UK economy and that any transition is phased in gradually over time.
The evidence base to support or refute the Government’s assumptions that resident UK workers will fill the jobs is simply not there. There is a need to focus on improving the evidence base before further entrenching the skills-based immigration policy that the UK operates in respect of non-EU nationals. Furthermore, the evidence base available to policymakers is incomplete and in some cases insufficiently reliable. This is an unsatisfactory basis on which to start developing a policy, and it will complicate scrutiny of the policies that may result.
Different ways of measuring who counts as a migrant sow confusion in the public debate about immigration, facilitating both overstatement and understatement of particular trends in political rhetoric and contributing to a gap between perception and reality. The International Passenger Survey, the main source of data on migration flows, is limited in what it tells us about migrants coming to the UK. While it is an important tool in shedding light on immigration statistics at national level, it is not the right tool to answer all our questions on immigration. But then, using other tools can be problematic, too, because of differences in how definitions are used, meaning that comparing data can result in misleading findings.
Just as worrying is that these different measures and definitions can render migration statistics misleading when used in public debate. Who is counted in the Government’s net migration statistics is not always well understood by the public. For example, short-term migrants, defined as those staying in the UK for less than 12 months— that is, agricultural workers—are not included in net migration statistics. By contrast, both EU and non-EU students are counted in those statistics if they enrol for courses which last for more than 12 months.
The precise manner in which the Government will end free movement is a pivotal aspect of the UK’s approach to negotiations with the EU and could have far-reaching consequences for the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU and the UK economy. I therefore look forward to the Minister’s response, and some indication of the Government’s thinking and the progress they have made in deciding what our immigration policy will look like post Brexit. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am very pleased to be able to contribute, just for a short time, to a very important discussion of a report that I commend strongly. I want in that context to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and all the clerks and researchers involved in the preparation of the report, and the high-quality witnesses who gave evidence for the report to be prepared.
I come from a background of having served as Immigration Minister in this country for a period in the 1990s, and I was also responsible on behalf of my party for such discussions in the European Parliament for a considerable number of years. I have to say that I am always concerned when the subject of immigration comes up in any political discourse. If we are not careful, it can lead to outbursts of emotion and concerns which sometimes are justified but sometimes are not. What saddens me greatly is that “immigration” is used to cover so many aspects of the movement of people. We are in a world anyway where people are moving for loads of reasons: sometimes for economic reasons, sometimes for cultural reasons and sometimes because they have to move under the pressure or repression that they are experiencing. We have to be able to tackle that if we are a society that believes in humanity and an economically strong society that believes in progressing our own economies.
We should always have had a separation between the different aspects of the movement of people. Certainly, the Immigration Rules, which I applied in 1990s and others have applied since, were quite clear in dealing with pressures and with opportunities for people to come to this country for various reasons. Most often, those pressures and challenges related to people who came to this country from non-EU parts of the world. That caused frictions and great difficulties. Whole aspects of community relations had to be developed in this country and we can be proud of the way in which we managed to deal with the arrival of lots of people of very different cultures and backgrounds from all kinds of places in the world. We can look at that with some pride.
There is also our relationship with the United Nations and asylum. Figures relating to asylum should always be separate. We are obliged under the 1951 United Nations convention to give sanctuary to people who comply with some very tight rules. But we do it, we have always done it and I hope that we always will do it. Again, that category should be separated. Then we come to the issue that the report is about: the freedom of movement of EU citizens. Of course, that is based largely on our economic interests and on agreements reached for the benefit of this country and other countries. I find it a little worrying when all these figures of people arriving here are lumped together into some kind of total and it appears that they have to be dealt with in a similar manner.
We are not very sure of our statistics when we come to the number of people coming here. When I was a Minister, we had internal and external checks on people arriving in this country. I have never been quite sure what actual effect knowing that information had on the plans we made for them or on the immigration legislation that followed. Those external checks were removed by the Labour Government in 1998 and were not restored until 2015. Restoring them was helpful to us, but, again—as suggested by evidence given to the committee by the Minister, my honourable friend Robert Goodwill—it was quite clear that the information obtained from 2015 was not sufficiently utilised or of much use to us in determining either numbers or types of people arriving. The International Passenger Survey has been the basis of a lot of the statistics on how many people have come to this country, yet of all the people coming here who could be identified in a recent survey, 12% were already British citizens. Allowing them to be included in the figures seems rather nonsensical and unhelpful.
I will add two other things. First, I mentioned definitions, which are very important. In relation to trade arrangements and any form of tariff-free areas, it would be right to suggest that, when you have freedoms in the movement of services, goods and capital, almost invariably the requirement would be for people to be able to move as well. There have been one or two instances, such as some recent trade negotiations—all of which, I might add, take many years to conclude—where there has not been an agreement on the movement of people. In nearly all those cases, they have been deficient—for example, by having no freedom in relation to services or the service industries. It seems that less is always less and more is more. If we want a free trade agreement that is as good as the one we have now, we will probably have to accept terms and conditions that relate to people moving as well.
Secondly, over the years we have had the power to change things and we have done so where there have been pressures upon us. My right honourable friend the former Prime Minister David Cameron took part in a somewhat derided negotiation, in which he tried to get some reforms out of the European Union prior to the referendum in this country. The derision was unfair, certainly in relation to the discussions he had on migration and benefits. Where there is a clear demonstration of pressures on any country, there was a willingness then—and I suspect that now there is probably an even greater willingness among other European countries—to adapt to change and reflect on those difficulties in the case of a member state. He was certainly offered in relation to the limitation on in-work benefits something that I thought at the time was very positive—although of course subsequently in the referendum campaign I am afraid that those things got somewhat lost.
My Lords, I was struck by what my noble friend said about the absence of proper information and statistics. With his great experience, perhaps he could guide the House as to how it came about that we rely on the International Passenger Survey, which is a tiny sample and has a margin of error running to tens of thousands, for the data on net immigration figures; how it is possible to construct a net immigration policy based on information that is highly inaccurate; and why the Home Office, over the years—when he was involved and since—has not done something about that.
I thank my noble friend for that point. I suppose that in a way this is an acceptance on my part of a failing when I was Minister: I actually did not realise until the statistics were gleaned recently that the main statistics were being obtained in that way. I am surprised by it. I say to my noble friend that, as somebody who believes very strongly that our borders are important and that we should control them properly, I was somewhat surprised. But that inaccuracy did show up statistics such as the ones I mentioned: the 12% British citizens included in immigration figures who come back to this country. That was of concern and, whatever else we do based on the report, we ought to ask the Government to look carefully at the way in which information is obtained to make sure that it is more accurate in future.
I will add just one more thing and then wind up. It is a very complex report—it has to be complex because the circumstances now are very complex indeed. But I urge that in the discussions we have from now on about this country and its economic relationship with the European Union, we do not forget that the actual physical presence of citizens of the European Union here and of UK citizens in Europe must continue to have massive priority.
My Lords, I was a member of the committee which drew up the report, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for chairing the committee with such skill and determination. It was not an easy task. Inevitably, the situation has moved on since we published our report in March this year. I shall draw attention today to the movement of people as it applies to children, with implications, of course, for their families. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for agreeing to meet me later this week to discuss this issue.
Children are not mentioned specifically in the report, or any other report for that matter, but it opens the door for the consideration of children’s rights; for example, in paragraph 12 on treaty change, secondary legislation and the evolving case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, and in paragraph 13 on the regulation of the rights codified in the citizens’ rights directive of 2004. It is also relevant to quote the conclusions and recommendations, which affirm:
“The evidence base currently available to policy-makers responsible for devising a future framework for UK-EU migration is incomplete, in some cases insufficiently reliable, and dispersed across a range of sources that are not always directly comparable”.
I will provide some evidence-based examples of this with regard to children.
Concerns about the impact of Brexit on children are being discussed in detail now by the children’s rights sector across the UK and Europe, including practitioners, civil society organisations and academics. I hope that their views will be taken into account. Up to now, there has been little consideration of the impact of Brexit on children, little engagement with the views of children and young people, and little discussion of the implications for children in the devolved nations of the UK. Yet children, whoever and wherever they are, are our future, and provision must be made for their rights and welfare in any new order. Brexit may leave significant gaps in the provision and protections currently provided by EU law unless careful negotiation is carried out.
I would ask the Government to consider five areas. I cannot expand in detail today but I will ensure that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, receives a full record of concerns and examples. First, how will the residence and related social and welfare entitlement of the children of EU migrants currently living in the UK, and of UK migrants living in other parts of the EU, be affected? One area of particular concern is that of the children of EU nationals with the new status of “temporary” permission to remain. Even children born and raised in the UK, who have never lived anywhere else, are at risk from the gaps in social protection that already exist for EU nationals. There are particular concerns about children in Northern Ireland here.
My second issue is that of securing the citizenship, residence and related social and welfare entitlement of children born in the UK to third-country nationals. Since 2006, a child is British only if a parent had permanent residence at the time of birth. Children who wish to gain British citizenship have to register—a complex and costly experience. Again, Northern Ireland is a particular case. The conditions of citizenship in the Good Friday agreement state that people born in the north have the right to identify themselves as British or Irish, or both. What will their rights as EU citizens be after Brexit?
Next, I touch on child protection measures. EU law protects children in a range of contexts including child trafficking, immigration and asylum, sexual exploitation and labour. Some of this law is embedded in domestic regulatory frameworks. It is assumed that such protection will continue after Brexit but some protective measures have been implemented only partially or not at all. Will Brexit leave gaps in child-related provision?
I move on to social exclusion and community cohesion. What will happen to the European Commission’s €3.8 billion fund for 2014 to 2020, which supports aid to deprived children with the condition that member states commit 15% in co-funding? The Welsh Government have identified £192 million of EU funds to tackle poverty. The EU has supported the peace process and projects to support vulnerable children and young people in Northern Ireland. Children’s agencies are deeply concerned about possible cuts to these funds.
Lastly, I want to mention child-related research, capacity building and clinical testing. The European Commission’s EU Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme 2014-2020 has a budget of €439 million to fund research, training and capacity building in areas affecting children. The UK Government have said that they will support committed agreements up to 2018 but much of this work requires long-term application. I personally know many researchers and academic practitioners who are deeply worried about the implications for the future. Paediatric medicine and research may also suffer. Since 2006, children have benefited from a single regulatory system at EU level regarding paediatric medicines. Trials across countries are essential to guarantee the large samples which ensure that the majority of medicines used by children are tested and authorised for use. What will happen to that regulatory system?
I have been able simply to touch the surface of concerns about the future of children’s rights post Brexit. These rights, of course, have implications for the adult population. I look forward to meeting the Minister shortly and to the rest of the debate.
My Lords, I very much welcome this report. I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for her chairmanship of the committee, of which I was a member, and for her leadership in conducting us through a long and complex inquiry. The report is extremely important at this moment. It casts light on certain claims and counterclaims, and it examines possible ways forward while challenging some assumptions.
For example, on the control of borders and regaining of sovereignty, I for one was interested to hear the Minister, Mr Goodwill, say that the idea that we do not control our borders is an incorrect perception. We do, according to Mr Goodwill. We check our borders 100%. The report quotes him on the number of people that have already been sent back and on the processes that are already being practised.
The Institute of Directors pointed out that we in Britain do not necessarily use all the constraints open to us to restrict incomers. As has already been said, there are many more non-EU nationals among long-term immigrants than EU nationals, despite policies devised by the UK Parliament and exercised by it. I am keen that we should have some questions answered on this. How are reductions to the tens of thousands that the Government talk about to be achieved in the light of past performance?
The noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, raised a point about how the issue of EC citizens in this country is to be passed into British law when it requires reciprocity for UK citizens in the EU. The cost of not coming to an agreement is that those UK citizens will be treated as third-country nationals for all purposes of law within the EU.
Equally, the report looks at three specific ways to dismantle freedom of movement. There is the emergency brake, which few of our witnesses supported to any great degree due to the practical difficulty of deciding at what stage it should be applied, how it should be applied and to what sectors. There is freedom of movement with jobs. Again, witnesses felt that this should be looked at, but they did not agree with the hierarchy of jobs that the Government talked about—that is, the very high-skilled being very necessary and the low-skilled being not necessary, not valued and to be replaced by British citizens. Work permits was the least preferred option by just about all witnesses, particularly businesses. We heard a great deal about the very lengthy and bureaucratic processes and the time needed to satisfy the requirements. In addition, they disagreed with the shortage lists. They felt they were very often out of date and did not really apply to their needs. I would like to know which options the Government are looking at and whether there are other options.
What comes over to us all the time is that people do not know what is going on or how their livelihoods are going to be affected. They feel great uncertainty about their family. If they are EU citizens, they are living in a great state of insecurity. Equally, UK citizens abroad feel totally deprived of any information about their future under Brexit.
The report deals partly with economic impacts, particularly with low-skilled workers. It makes the point that low salaries do not necessarily indicate low skills, but they tend to be treated in the same way. If that is the case, what about nurses and care workers? There was a great deal of evidence from farmers and the agricultural unions that agriculture and certain production in this country simply cannot continue if they do not have the flexibility of EU migrants. It was pointed out that they are often told that there are unemployed people in this country but there is a significant mismatch of the unemployed to the need for workers in some parts of the country.
The report raises very many issues on which we are entitled to have some response. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, has had no response from the Government. What is at stake is a lack of confidence. There is a real feeling among many people, particularly businesses in the UK, that we are isolating ourselves, that people are losing confidence in the UK and that we are going to become isolated and much less influential in the world.
In addition to answers to these questions, I would like to see some form of leadership from the Government over how they are positively going to proceed to take us out of the EU; what people who live in the rest of Europe and EU citizens in this country can expect and how they can be reassured; and for business, and indeed for the whole conduct of our economy, some assurance that this is going to be shared with them, that they are going to be able to give their views and that they are going to be part of this process, not treated as a separate entity. I very much welcome the report and look forward to the Minister’s answers to my questions.
My Lords, I declare an entirely non-financial interest as chairman of Migration Watch, a position that I have held for the last 16 years. Your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that I read this report with very great interest; indeed, I gave some evidence to the committee. A great deal of work has gone into it and it is a very useful basis for further work on a whole range of important issues, some of which have been touched on already. That said, I would like to make three broad points.
First, the report strikes me as something of a missed opportunity. It is surely obvious that in the light of the referendum result the scale of immigration must be reduced, and furthermore that some of that reduction must come from EU migration, over which the Government at present have no control whatever. I suggest therefore that it would have been helpful if the committee had addressed itself more directly to the key policy issue at hand and had been more specific about what might be achieved. Instead, the summary of conclusions states on page 61:
“The Government’s primary objective in putting an end to the free movement of persons appears to be restoring sovereignty … In particular, the Government has thus far stopped short of saying it intends to limit or reduce net migration from the EU, although this can arguably be implied from the ‘tens of thousands’ target for net migration overall”.
I wondered whether the committee was being serious, especially as the report was published before the last election, when there was surely no doubt about the direction of government policy. Indeed, I notice that in the main summary, perhaps written by a different hand, this point is acknowledged. Still, it seems to me that the committee was disposed—dare I say determined? —to avoid considering how immigration could actually be reduced. I know it is a difficult issue but, frankly, I do not think the committee addressed it.
Secondly, had the committee addressed that key issue, it would surely have concluded that the focus of policy should be on the lower-skilled rather than on the higher-skilled. In this context, the report speaks of the need to improve the evidence base for policy. Having said that, it seems to neglect some key and important points. I will briefly mention just three. Just under 80% of the 1.25 million EU workers who have arrived in the UK since 2006 are working in lower-skilled, lower-paid jobs. That is particularly true for those who have arrived from eastern Europe. Secondly, the independent Migration Advisory Committee, well known to Members of this House, has concluded that:
“Low skilled migrants have a neutral impact on UK-born employment rates”—
this is broadly agreed—
“fiscal contribution, GDP per head and productivity”.
So it would be very hard to argue that they are indispensable from a macroeconomic point of view. We will come to particular companies, but the evidence is that the macroeconomic arguments for low-skilled migration from Europe are very weak.
HMRC data released last year showed that eastern Europeans paid on average only half as much income tax as the average UK taxpayer. Further work showed that payment to such workers is roughly £13 million a day. If you were looking for a way to reduce overall immigration, surely you would look at this. It is obvious, and I hope that in future work the committee will do so. Indeed, if the committee had looked at that, it might have asked why the UK taxpayer should subsidise what has been increasing dependence by employers on cheap labour from abroad.
Thirdly, and lastly, this is the background to the proposal that we have made for a work permit regime similar to that for non-EU workers. In our calculation, that would reduce net migration by about 100,000 a year, a major step towards the Government’s objective. Would it result in unacceptable damage to certain sectors of our economy? That depends in part on whether there would be a sudden exodus of the east European workers who now are very important in a number of sectors in Britain.
Here, the committee claimed that there are no data on the turnover of EU migrants. This is a critical point: the committee is wrong. It can be deduced from the Labour Force Survey. We have done that work. We have shown that east European workers have proved to be a remarkably stable population. The number who came in 2006 is now the same, or indeed slightly higher, and so on through that period. This shows that there is very unlikely to be a sudden exodus, although I entirely accept that over time the number will reduce and the firms concerned will need to adjust their employment practices, conditions and so on.
Such a work permit scheme would preserve for British industry access to the high skills that it really needs. That is not in dispute, as far as I know; it is pretty obvious that that should be the priority. There could of course be seasonal schemes—and I mean seasonal, so that they are within one year and therefore do not count as migrants—for specified agricultural or horticultural sectors. If it turns out that there needs to be an implementation period, which is now very much under discussion, new arrangements for immigration could be spread over a similar period.
I will not go into further detail. I simply reiterate that there is a clear and feasible way forward that could usefully have been explored. I conclude on a slight note of regret that the committee was so cautious in its approach to the central policy issue that we now face.
I would indeed care to comment. Our population has taken off because of immigration, which accounts in the medium and longer term for two-thirds of our population increase. I am glad that the noble Lord asked the question, because it is really important. The likelihood is that if we do not take action on EU migration, net migration from the EU will be about 125,000 a year. That is our forecast, and we are rather good at forecasting. If you do the rest of the arithmetic, adding non-EU immigration and taking away British departures, you land up with net migration of the order of a quarter of a million a year.
That is very close to the high migration scenario of the ONS, and it means that the population of the UK will increase by 10 million in the next 20 years. In other words, to put it in more understandable language, we will have to build the equivalent of the city of Birmingham every two years. That is astronomical. Its impact on infrastructure is self-evident; its impact on the scale and nature of the population is quite infinite. We have to understand this. I know that it is not popular in this House. People would much prefer that they did not have to address it, but this is what is coming down the pike, and we had better wake up and face it.
My Lords, this is an extremely important debate, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for introducing it so ably. I should make it clear from the very start that I voted in the referendum to remain but, like countless others, I have accepted the will of the people and, in my humble opinion, we now need to pull together and make Brexit a success. There are indeed opportunities but there are also challenges, and it is on those latter that I wish to concentrate because we need to plan for them and mitigate their effects. The issue I wish to focus on is that of workforce. As a veterinary surgeon, I want to concentrate on the potential serious shortage of vets, which we now face, and will increasingly face if there is a reduction in the import of the professionals we need.
I am acutely aware that the veterinary profession is relatively small but it has a crucial role in our society, and the problems that it faces are a metaphor for those in many other areas, especially in science, technology, engineering and human healthcare. While in the UK workforce as a whole, some 7% are non-UK EU nationals, of the 20,000 or so vets registered to practise in the UK, some 25% are non-UK EU nationals. In certain sectors of work, that percentage is much higher. For example, in the larger clinical practices it is 30%, in government veterinary services it is 45%, and in the critical area of the food chain—abattoirs and so on—it is in excess of 90%. Even in our vet schools, over one-fifth of the staff who teach the vets of the future and contribute to the advancement of our subject via research are non-UK EU nationals.
This dependence on imported professionals has been slowly developing for some years—Brexit has not created it—but the ability to import the highly trained professionals we need has concealed the inadequacy of our indigenous supply. We have papered over the cracks of our undersupply by importation. The inadequacy of our native supply is a product of a number of things—partly underproduction of graduates in our veterinary schools, which is partly because a substantial minority of our undergraduates are overseas students, destined not to contribute to the UK workforce. There has also been a recent worrying downwards trend in the number of applications by UK students. The problem is exacerbated by an increasing drop-out rate of graduates, which is disturbing and ill understood, but which the profession is now examining. Those factors I call “disemployment”, by which I mean there are a lot of job vacancies that we need filled in the UK which British nationals, for one reason or another, do not want to do. That means that 40% of clinical veterinary practices took over three months to fill a vacancy—over three times the national average of 29 days. This phenomenon is widespread across a plethora of science, engineering, technical and medical jobs, but Brexit now exposes and exacerbates the problem. We face a perfect storm of underproduction, increasing postgraduate attrition and the probability of a reduction in imported personnel. This is certainly a crisis for the veterinary profession but I suggest that it is a major challenge to many other science-based professions.
I am sure I do not need to inform this House what vets do for society. Most obviously, they provide healthcare and good welfare for all our animals. Those noble Lords who own pets or horses, or farm livestock, will appreciate the fantastic service provided by the profession, which has no direct public subsidy. Crucially, beyond that, vets are critical in guarding against and dealing with catastrophic outbreaks of disease, such as bird flu and foot and mouth—the 2001 outbreak of which, I remind the House, cost the country an estimated £8 billion. They also have a crucial role in assuring and supporting public health, largely through oversight of the food chain but in other respects as well. Lastly, they facilitate trade which requires veterinary certification. All exports of live animals and animal products to third countries currently require veterinary certification and/or inspection. That requirement is likely to increase after Brexit, as we try to expand trade with third countries including, depending on the nature of the Brexit agreement, the EU, which is our biggest export destination for livestock products. Veterinary certification is the pinch point of all our livestock product trade.
We are already seeing non-UK EU nationals either leaving the UK or not taking up posts they have hitherto been eager to do. The Government’s assurances so far are welcome, but do not assuage the doubts of our EU colleagues. A recent survey conducted by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, has shown that following the Brexit vote, 64% of non-UK EU vets currently working in the UK feel less welcome, 40% are more likely to leave the UK, and 18% are actually actively seeking employment overseas. There are other, personal issues; for example, I have heard of a Spanish vet who could not get a mortgage. That is a serious disincentive for people who want to come and work here and contribute to our important industries.
What are the solutions? Some of the issues to which I have referred, such as expanding indigenous veterinary graduate numbers and reducing postgraduate attrition, can be solved only in the long term. They are being addressed, particularly by the British Veterinary Association and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Some solutions may be achieved by the profession working alone, but some may require government intervention and facilitation. However, far and away the most pressing need is to retain the non-UK EU nationals currently working here. I ask the Government, and the Minister, to give assurances that non-UK EU nationals currently working in vital sectors such as veterinary science will be given the same rights in the future, mirroring those that would have applied if we remained in the EU.
We also need to continue to attract vets from the EU and elsewhere, subject to professional accreditation requirements. What are the Government doing to inform EU nationals in their own countries that they are welcome here and under what conditions? It has been reported that some elements of the press in continental Europe have been offering very negative views of the prospects for EU nationals coming to the UK in the future.
Finally, and most urgently, will the Home Office restore vets to the shortage occupation list, from which they were removed in 2011? This is an essential first step in addressing the shortage of vets that we face and which threatens animal health and welfare, food security, public health and our international trade in animals and animal products. I look forward to and welcome the Minister’s response.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Trees, because his speech illustrates one of the cardinal virtues of this House: he speaks from a background of a lifetime’s experience in, and knowledge of, his subject. I think I am right in saying that he is the only veterinary surgeon who is currently a Member of your Lordships’ House, and how fortunate we are to have him.
What a contrast between the noble Lord’s speech and the tawdry debate that preceded the referendum on 23 June, where there was a deliberate mixing up of the words “immigrant” and “migration”. That was best summed up in the most disgraceful poster that I have ever seen—the Farage poster featuring Syrian refugees, suggesting that by voting to come out of the EU, people would save themselves from being “swamped”, to use that horrible word. It was a deliberate perversion and distortion and those responsible for it, or who gained indirect benefit from it, should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
It was a privilege to serve on the Home Affairs Sub-Committee under the skilful and very adroit chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, who introduced this debate so very well. She is no longer on the committee as she has been rotated off according to the rules of the House, which can sometimes be inconvenient but which are entirely understandable. I am no longer on the committee because I had the temerity to support what the committee had said. We pointed out that the scope of the inquiry,
“has been limited to future flows of EU citizens”,
and said in specific terms:
“We remain of the view that the Government should give a unilateral guarantee now”—
this was published in March—
“that is to say, before negotiations begin—that it will safeguard the EU citizenship rights of all EU nationals in the UK when the UK withdraws from the EU”.
I voted in accordance with that principle, which I have advanced since 24 June last year, when we had the Article 50 Bill and the amendments. As some of your Lordships know, I was summarily dismissed from the committee as a result of that. I shall not cease to remind the Government that I think that is not the way that any responsible Government should treat a responsible Select Committee of your Lordships’ House.
In her excellent speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, said that in evaluating evidence, we were very anxious not to recommend anything that would endanger the economy. We have just heard in the splendid speech of the noble Lord, Lord Trees, how a very small but vital sector of our economy could indeed be damaged in a most dangerous way if we do not behave with suitable sensitivity. We heard evidence from a whole variety of people that made it plain that the National Health Service and our hospitality interests were in danger if we cut off the flow of people as there are not people available here, any more than there are native trained vets, to step into the breach.
We also had some very compelling evidence from Minette Batters, the deputy president of the NFU, in which she talked about the danger to certain sections of the agriculture and horticulture industries. One of the subjects that cropped up during our discussions was the definition of the term “low skilled”. If you tell the fruit growers in Kent or Herefordshire or the vegetable growers in Lincolnshire, where I now live, that the people who are harvesting and picking their crops are unskilled, they will give you a funny look. They may not be skilled from the point of view of a list of academic qualifications, but to garner a crop of strawberries is not a clumsy exercise, and if it becomes one, the strawberries perish. We have to have regard to simple facts like that.
Another thing that came across as we were taking evidence was the absolute fatuity of treating students as if they are immigrants. We voted on that in your Lordships’ House and showed what we think about it, and I hope that we will do so again. I hope that in this new Parliament, with some slightly adjusted figures, the Prime Minister can be persuaded that her obduracy on that particular subject is not helpful to the economy or to our nation’s reputation as a centre of educational excellence with some of the finest institutions in the world, welcoming, as we always should, students from all over the world, from inside and outside the EU.
This was a difficult report to produce in a rather short space of time. It was published early in March. Of course, we did not suspect at that stage that within weeks we would be plunged into an election, which would of course lead to “strong and stable government for the foreseeable future”—we were not told about that. However, we are now in a situation, which the Prime Minister has acknowledged, where the good sense and knowledge throughout your Lordships’ House and in the other place should be brought into play. I make no apology for suggesting in your Lordships’ House for a third time that unique problems demand unique solutions. And this is a unique problem. In my nearly 50 years in this building, I have never experienced anything like it. To have a joint grand committee of both Houses, where Members of your Lordships’ House such as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, could contribute, as he did a few moments ago, can only help those who seek to negotiate an outcome which we must all devoutly hope does not endanger our economy.
It has been said many times in debates in your Lordships’ House and elsewhere that whatever else people voted for on 23 June last year, they did not vote to become poorer, to put their jobs in jeopardy or to reduce the degree of friendship and the common bonds that have united and should continue to unite the nations of Europe. Therefore, as I said last week, as we come out a transition period will be very necessary indeed. It is important that we move towards a new situation where the United Kingdom can continue to exercise great influence but can also benefit from the talents and skills of those in other nations who have done so much to enrich our economy over the last 40 years.
I greatly welcome this report. I am sorry that we do not have a government response in writing but we will have one from the Front Bench, and I much look forward to it.
My Lords, it is, as ever, a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who spoke with his customary passion and whose speech was filled with interesting thought.
I declare my interests as set out in the register of the House, and in particular those relating to farming in Scotland, where seasonal EU labour is a key component of success in what is, I regret, a very thinly profitable environment. I also remind the House that I am a member of the EU Select Committee and the Justice Sub-Committee.
This is a very important report and is one of 17 unanimous Brexit-related reports written in the 2016-17 Session. This work rate, involving as it does, 73 Members of your Lordships’ House and the 24 professional staff of the EU Select Committee, has been very intensive, and I, too, record the immense gratitude that I and all committee members have towards those staff. I hope the Minister will agree that the product has been of a consistently high standard and helpful to all sides involved in the process. Finally, I think the whole House would like to send our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, our special messages and wish him a speedy return following his recent illness.
The importance of this report can be gauged in many ways, one of which is that in this first phase of the Brexit negotiations only three subjects are being discussed between the EU and the UK, and the movement of citizens and the rights acquired is one of them. As we know, this first phase is intended to conclude in October. In many cases, every day is carefully timetabled by the EU, with a purpose between now and then.
Last Wednesday the EU Select Committee was in Brussels and we had formal sessions with Mr Verhofstadt and, separately, M Barnier. The transcripts, which are interesting, will be available shortly. Naturally, the bulk of the discussions concerned the three subjects, as the EU’s position is that it will not proceed to phase 2 of the negotiations without there being “sufficient progress” in each of those three initial subject areas.
It was my impression that both the European Parliament team and the EU Commission team had read the EU Select Committee output generally, and in particular this report. They were able to quote from the report in meetings without referring to it. However, we were left with the impression that this was in part due to the paucity of the output from the Government and other parliamentary channels that they had been able to get hold of and read.
Quite a lot of feedback was given to us about this report and its sister report on acquired rights, which had been prepared by the Justice Sub-Committee—on which I sat—and which was debated recently, and about chapter 5 of the Government’s paper The United Kingdom’s Exit From and New Partnership with the European Union and the June government paper Safeguarding the Position of EU Citizens Living in the UK and UK Nationals Living in the EU. This feedback was generally consistent with the EU’s public position, but I felt that the body language indicated that the EU is happy to show some flexibility. However, clear blue water currently exists between us on the matter, so I would make just two points this afternoon.
First, it seems that substantial progress towards “sufficient progress” on this matter has been made, but there is more to be done, including on the part of the United Kingdom. In other words, both sides will need to develop their positions. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister on this point—in particular, that there is some flexibility in the United Kingdom’s position.
The second and, for me, much more important point concerns simplicity. The point was made to us very strongly in Brussels that future arrangements for travel and work between the EU 27 and the UK must be administratively easy—I suppose the word of the moment is “frictionless”. As I sat and listened to this, I felt that I could not agree more—70-plus-page forms for the farmers of Perthshire wanting to employ those very same people who have been so helpful for many years came to mind. I refer to the position set out by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I am in the vegetable business. It is not a high-skill business but, for safety reasons, you need people who are enormously experienced. That is very important, and there is not a cadre of people in the UK that we can get—in many instances people have been working with us for 20 years or so. I feel that it would be a terrific own goal of a large, unnecessary and damaging nature if we cannot solve this.
As the report states in paragraph 130:
“The employers’ organisations from whom we took evidence were uniformly opposed to the prospect of applying the UK’s current Points Based System to EU nationals”.
Later, that same paragraph states that the Institute of Directors gave evidence that:
“Visa applications typically take between three and eight months to process. The forms that an employer must fill out typically comprise about 100 questions and 85 pages for a visa”.
The NFU estimates that there are around 80,000 EU seasonal workers in the agricultural sector. There is currently only one concession that would allow an agricultural business to escape the points-based system for a potential employee: the concession for sheep-shearers. I feel, therefore, that the points-based system would be a disaster, and I cannot believe that it would be ready for a post-Brexit deluge.
According to the report’s figure 7, on page 39, 135,000 points-based visas were awarded in the year ending September 2016. So pumping 80,000 agricultural people in, to say nothing of the other industry sectors that would be involved—for example, in Scotland, we have a lot of seasonal people working in the hospitality industry—would, I am sure, produce an absolute horror. Making the process simple, attractive and easy for those concerned is something within our sole control and is, I submit, vital to the future prosperity of our nation. I would be very grateful if the Minister could give the House some reassurance on these points.
In closing, I salute my noble friend Lady Prashar and her committee on this excellent report, and praise the work and the thinking behind it.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to serve on the EU Justice Sub-Committee with the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. His thoughts are always wise and add considerably to the quality of what we are aiming to produce.
I join those who have expressed their appreciation to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, her colleagues and the clerks, for a very interesting report. It is a bit reflective in style, but I do not think it is any the worse for that. I cannot be alone—I know I am not—in thinking that one worry about our present predicament is that we seem to be rushing into situations before we have reflected and analysed, which her report certainly helps us to do. This is not the view of parliamentarians, the public or journalists alone; it is clearly the view of a wide cross-section of life in Britain, in industry, commerce, finance, agriculture and more. Many people who are at the heart of the functioning of the United Kingdom want to know where the evidence is for the positions that are being taken. Where is the evidence that is informing the decisions that increasingly urgently have to be taken? This lack of evidence-based process is very disturbing indeed. It is quite unimaginable that, on an issue of such huge importance for the British people, we are proceeding on a basis of amateur intuition or protectionism, without seeing what the implications are or what the consequences will be. The ultimate paragraph in the report sums this up well:
“We must recognise that crucial sectors of the economy are highly dependent on migrant labour. It is essential that any changes do not endanger the vibrancy of the UK economy, and that any transition to a new equilibrium is phased in gradually over time, as the evidence base available to policy-makers becomes more robust”.
If for nothing else, I thank those responsible for this report for that.
The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, in a typically humane, sensitive and courageous speech, made a point about the universities. We have not heard any rationale whatever as to why students are being counted as migrants. However, we know that what has been said and what has already been done has had an adverse effect on the prospects for students coming to this country. We used to be one of the key places for students to come. That is no longer true. It is also no longer true of academic staff as well. I am involved in the governance of three universities and already there are indications that people thinking of their careers, their future and their families are wondering whether it is sensible or rational to make a decision to stay in this country.
Several noble Lords have referred to the emotion that has unfortunately surrounded this debate and whether this is a nice place to live, bring up children and so on. I unashamedly say that I belong to a world-involved family. In my extended family there are people living in Europe and people from Europe who are very much part of our family. They have all been affected by what is going on. We in this House need to ask ourselves what kind of characterful leadership is being given in the midst of all this.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate, in a thoughtful and wise speech, referred to citizenship. Again, I do not apologise for saying, as I have said in previous debates, that citizenship has always been, in my book, a profoundly significant issue—it goes back to Roman and Greek times. We, the British people, in one vote removed European citizenship from many people living in this country. Following the Maastricht treaty, people had their national citizenship but they also had European citizenship, and the rights of citizenship were removed unilaterally by our decision. I do not think that that is a very good moment in our history. From that standpoint, because of the importance we have always said we attach to citizenship, we should restore some priority to these considerations in what is happening.
On my final point, the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, referred to—and I was glad that he did—the global dimension. We are almost neurotically preoccupied with the European dimension in all this—and, indeed, in fair play, so are our European partners. I believe that all of us in Europe have to wake up. A statistic that simply cannot be escaped from is the fact that there are 65.3 million refugees and displaced people in the world and that 21.3 million of them are refugees. If any of us, either in Britain or in the rest of Europe, think that we can find a neat little solution which will enable us to handle this situation on a European basis, we are living in cloud-cuckoo-land. Of course we must have in place arrangements in Europe, and the sooner the better—the responsibilities should be shared fairly between us—but if ever there was an example of why effective international co-operation is crucial, it is when we have to face this global reality.
With climate change, instability, warfare, famine and all the rest, this is a problem that is going to accelerate. The movement of people will not go away, and the implications for us are there to see. That is why we should be working in close collaboration with our European friends so that we can contribute to finding global solutions to the realities facing humanity. That is also why it is so sad that, just at this juncture, to the world Britain is apparently preoccupied with, “What’s in it for us and how are we going to save what we want for ourselves?”. By trying to save what we can for ourselves, we will be defeating our future well-being by ceasing to be the people we should be seen to be in the world as a whole.